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LGBTQ advocates in Florida schools are celebrating another win. Here’s why

The Parental Rights in Education law limits the outright instruction around gender identity and sexuality in Florida schools.
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The Parental Rights in Education law limits the outright instruction around gender identity and sexuality in Florida schools.

A federal judge has blocked part of the Parental Rights in Education law as it applies to one teacher in the state.

A federal judge has blocked part of the Parental Rights in Education law, what critics have called “Don’t Say Gay,” as it applies to at least one teacher in the state.

Three teachers sued the Florida Department of Education and local schools over the law last year. The law limits the outright instruction of gender identity or sexuality. Proponents say it keeps age-inappropriate content out of schools.

The ruling issued Tuesday only applies to one of the plaintiffs on the suit, Florida teacher, Katie Wood, who is transgender. Judge Mark Walker ruled Wood can use preferred pronouns.

But the injunction does not apply statewide.

Still, Equality Florida’s Carlos Guillermo Smith said the ruling is a win that sends a bigger message about what Florida legislators should be focusing on in schools.

“They appear to be obsessed with things like regulating pronouns, and banning books with LGBTQ characters or content in it, when instead, they should be obsessed with trying to improve math and reading scores for students in our schools,” Guillermo Smith said.

A settlement around the law last month also clarified how it could be applied, said Guillermo Smith.

“It's another victory for freedom, it’s another victory for the First Amendment rights of Floridians and another victory for LGBTQ people. Because we've seen so many of these anti-LGBTQ laws have been smacked down by the courts,” Guillermo Smith said.

GLSEN Policy Director Brian Dittmeier said he feels the tide is turning when it comes to these anti-LGBTQ laws. He also said the work is far from over for LGBTQ advocates in places like Florida.

“I think first we need to undo a lot of the damage that's come from this legislative overreach. The focus has always been on how do we build safe, inclusive and affirming learning environments for all children? Every student deserves the right to go to school, and to be able to learn in a safe environment where they're supported,” Dittmeier said.

Dittmeier said building more inclusive schools will also help alleviate a national teacher shortage and a national mental health crisis.

“And that will of course translate to these broader issues in education about how do we retain talented staff in the community and in the schools? How do we address the youth mental health crisis that is affecting all of our younger children as well? How do we ensure academic performance is back up to speed post COVID-19? All of these different foundational questions in education right now have a permutation where states with inclusive policies are frankly moving ahead where states with regressive policies are just widening the disparities,” Dittmeier said.

Last month, a settlement surrounding the Parental Rights in Education law clarified that kids in K-12 classrooms can talk about gender identity and sexuality and read books about and by gay people. And teachers can put up pictures of their partners in class.

Copyright 2024 Central Florida Public Media. To see more, visit Central Florida Public Media.

Danielle Prieur